Today, during a statewide tour with Attorney General Alan Wilson, Governor Nikki Haley unveiled an ethics reform package that will give South Carolinians the good government they deserve.
Gov. Haley said, "The most important thing a public official can do is to try and right the wrongs they come across in public life. Our ethics laws and processes are wrong. They are too confusing, too insular, and most of all, far too weak. We're going to change that. No longer will South Carolinians be forced to wonder if their government truly belongs to them. These simple, commonsense changes to our ethics system will make South Carolina one of the most ethically stringent states in the country - which is no less than our people deserve."
The governor's ethics reform package includes:
No Incumbent Exemption for Elections Filings: All candidates for public office -- whether incumbent or non-incumbent -- should be required to file the same forms for candidacy. The South Carolina Supreme Court's recent interpretation of state laws regarding candidate filings of Statement of Economic Interest forms created confusion that resulted in the removal of more than 200 candidates from primary election ballots -- none of whom were incumbents for the office they were seeking. Current state law must be clarified to avoid incumbency protection and to promote a democratic election process.
Mandatory Conflict of Interest Recusals by Lawyer-Legislators: Recusal requirements for legislators appearing before boards on behalf of private clients should be strengthened to prohibit conflicts of interest and improper influence. Legislators are influencing the appointments of board members whom they appear before on behalf of private clients. For example, lawyer-legislators continue to influence the appointment process and vote at the committee levels during the confirmation process for the Workers' Compensation Commission, Department of Health and Environmental Control Board, and other quasi-judicial boards.
One Ethics Commission for all Public Officials: Current ethics review processes lacks coordination - public integrity oversight agencies do not have a coordinated approach to investigating and prosecuting ethical misconduct. They also lack credibility - legislative ethics committees police themselves and their colleagues. The public deserves an ethics review process that strengthens public integrity and can handle violations of ethics laws fairly and consistently. Therefore, it's time for a constitutional amendment to expand the State Ethics Commission's jurisdiction to include members of the General Assembly and dissolve the legislative ethics committees.
Total Income Disclosure for Elected Officials: Income disclosures empower the public to hold their elected officials accountable. Current state law does not require elected officials to disclose private sources of income. In fact, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, South Carolina is one of only four states that do not require private sources of income to be reported. We need to strengthen our financial disclosure laws to expose potential conflicts of interest. An elected official should report all income received by himself or herself, his or her spouse, and his or her immediate family members (children and other dependents), to include the source, recipient, amount, and how the income was earned. This includes income from lobbyist principals and associated businesses that contract with any government entity. Elected officials should report all fiduciary positions held, whether compensated or uncompensated, to include the name of the entity, title of position, and brief description of duties performed.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Applies to All Branches of Government: Public information should be freely and equally accessible to the people of South Carolina. Arguably, the strongest branch of government -- the Legislature -- has the weakest requirements for public records disclosure under our Freedom of Information laws thanks to the legislative exemption in South Carolina's FOIA law. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, forty-six states have FOIA laws that are stronger regarding disclosure of legislative records. It's time to do away with the legislative exemption in FOIA so that the public has access to information from all branches of government.